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Pawlenty's Broadening Palette

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, shown here speaking at an August event in Washington, is seen as an attractive Republican candidate for 2012. (Mark Wilson -- Getty Images)

Gov. Tim Pawlenty returned yesterday from a three-day trip to Germany where he attended the Munich Conference on Security Policy, the latest evidence that the Minnesota Republican is working to broaden his policy palette in advance of a potential run for president in 2012.

Pawlenty was invited to the conference, which was also attended by Vice President Biden among many, many other international dignitaries, by Sen. John McCain -- a close personal friend and the GOP's presidential nominee in 2008.

The stated reason for the trip was so that Pawlenty could gain information and context on the situation facing Minnesotans being sent to Iraq. "The governor feels it's helpful to have a deep understanding of security issues," a spokesman told the Star-Tribune.

The trip to Germany comes less than two months after Pawlenty traveled to Israel for a week -- the stated purpose of which was to explore trade opportunities for Minnesota businesses.

While the Fix always takes politicians at their word (ahem), there's an obvious side benefit for Pawlenty to these foreign trips and the relationships he builds with world leaders.

Such trips allow Pawlenty, who is widely seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2012, to shore up his one obvious weakness (and the weakness of any governor running for national office): lack of foreign policy experience and know-how.

One Pawlenty ally chalks up the trips in part to the governor's "curious mind" and "world-is-flat mindset," but insisted that while the trip does have ancillary 2012 benefits, the governor's job as Minnesota's commander in chief is the principal driver.

Regardless, Pawlenty's aggressive foreign travel has the effect of filling out an already-impressive résumé.

National Republicans point to Pawlenty's 2009 state of the state speech in which he outlines halving the business tax and increasing education funding while tightening government services elsewhere as a blueprint for GOP messaging on the struggling economy nationwide over the coming years, and view his populist appeal to critical Midwestern voters -- having been elected to two terms in Minnesota -- as an attractive package heading into 2012.

A survey of nearly 60 public opinion polls taken from 2003 to 2009 and aggregated by Smart Politics, the blog of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, shows a remarkable steadiness in T-Paw's appeal to voters.

Pawlenty's average job approval rating over the last year was 54 percent while his disapproval rating was 42 percent. Those numbers are remarkably consistent over the past four years; "through good times and bad, Republicans continue to love him, independents still like him and enough Democrats don't hate him to insure he will be a strong favorite to win again," write the folks at Smart Politics.

In the near term, Pawlenty must decide whether to run for a third term in 2010. His advisers paint him as genuinely undecided but for a man with obvious national ambitions, Pawlenty has to weigh whether the benefits of being a sitting office holder are greater than the possibility that he might come up short at the ballot box next fall.

No matter what he decides, Pawlenty's actions over the past few months have shown a savvy in regards his own political future that should warm the hearts of his allies who would like to see him run for president in 2012.

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 10, 2009; 11:03 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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It should also be pointed out that Pawlenty played a significant role in creating the budget mess that he complains about inheriting back in 2003. As Republican Majority Leader in the State House, he worked with his gubenatorial opponent, State Sen. Roger Moe to craft a budget filled with one-time shifts and gimmicks that enabled both parties to steamroll Ventura and avoid any hard choices in an election year.

And, it should also be pointed out that even with Pawlenty's steady approval ratings, he likely would have been ousted in 2006 if Mike Hatch hadn't gone off the deep end in the final week of the campaign. Re-election in 2010 is no cinch.

Posted by: seantolsen | February 11, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Pawlenty? President?
This guy was passed-over for a dim-witted bimbo when the GOP needed a "Younger" half of the Ticket.
Who's going to forget how badly he treated the candidate who became a Minnesota Senator after Norm Coleman exhausted the supply of money used to bribe liars for the election contest?
He's already shown he can be bought. Who in their right mind would want a man like that running the country. It would be worse than having W. Bush back.

Posted by: RickCoMatic | February 10, 2009 11:32 PM | Report abuse

I'm also in Minnesota. Pawlenty has undeniably dominated the message on the economy here, despite very large Dem majorities in both houses of the Legislature, he seems to run rings around them message-wise.

He probably would win against almost anyone in 2010 (I personally don't think Mayor Rybak will run), but if he wants to be President it might be wise to spend 2010 to 2012 free to travel, make connections, and raise money.

Posted by: billmcg1 | February 10, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

As a Minnesota native--and one who was raised blue collar, at that--I fell compelled to point out that Tim Pawlenty is essentially the Uncle Tom of the Minnesota working class. The Gopher State gov accepted financial aid (and rightly so) to fund his undergraduate and law school educations at the University of Minnesota. Yet what does he do as governor? Why, cut funding for higher education, of course!

To reference an above poster's comment, Pawlenty has achieved barely anything of substance since taking office. Jesse Ventura, while the Minneapolis Hiawatha line was indeed built while he was governor, Ventura was by and large against it--although he did leave the state with a huge deficit. Here's a search with the new search engine SweetSearch with a host of good links comparing Ventura and Pawlenty.

Posted by: DanielleDuBois | February 10, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Minnesota Republicans love to nominate right-wing nut jobs and Minnesota Democrats love to nominate people Marx would find too leftist. Pawlenty is a two term governor because he is not a full fledged nut job while his Democratic opponents have been. If Pawlenty runs for governor, and it is a lot harder to run for President being either unemployed or a practicing lawyer, he has to be worried about the Democrats holding their nose and running a strong candidate. Because it is really hard running for President as a losing two-term governor.

Posted by: caribis | February 10, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Having lived in both Minnesota and Arkansas during the part of the tenures of both Pawlenty and Huckabee, I think I can speak intelligently on both. In regards to Pawlenty, while he seems like a nice man, most of his accomplishments thus far appear to be more political than substantive in nature. Additionally, in the last election, he barely defeated a former attorney general with a terrible electoral track record who had a reputation for having an explosive temper. As much maligned as one of Pawlenty's predecessors, Jesse Ventura was, he got tangiable things accomplished for Minnesota -- such as installing a monorail from the airport to downtown Minneapolis -- which allowed poor people who didn't have their own cars and found a bus or taxi too expensive to work downtown with inexpensive transportation. I am racking my brain to remember what Pawlenty has accomplished. Finally, what does this governor bring to the table that other candidates wouldn't. Pawlenty likes to emphasize that he is blue collar --- but so is Palin. Pawlenty wants to say that he's done well with the budget he inherited; but Sanford and Huckabee have accomplished even more with smaller, poorer tax bases. And Pawlenty is not as fresh a face or more articulate than Bobby Jindal; nor has he faced down a national emergency like Haley Barbour did with Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, there is no rationale for his presidential candidacy at the present time.

Posted by: Jay20 | February 10, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Republicans need to just get off this 2012 crap, they have NO CHANCE against President OBAMA. They may have a chance in in 2020

Posted by: mattadamsdietmanager1014 | February 10, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

What's Pawlenty's view of the ongoing Bush-Cheney "programs of personal destruction"? Where does he stand on torture, civil liberties, warrantless wiretapping and searches/seizures? Why are these issues not at the forefront of debate and discussion, in the wake of the eight-year Bush-Cheney "reign of terror"?


EYES ONLY. TO: President Obama; VP Biden; R. Emanuel; D. Axelrod; D. Blair; J. Brennan; J. Jones; E. Holder; J. Napolitano; R. Gates; L. Panetta; H. Clinton; T. Geithner; R. Mueller; H. Reid; N. Pelosi; D. Feinstein; S. Reyes



... coordinated multi-agency "action programs of personal destruction" manned by security/intel agents, local police nationwide, and citizen vigilantes fronted by government-funded community policing and anti-terrorism programs.


WHAT IS THE U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT ROLE in these programs -- and has the IRS been used to decimate family finances of wrongly "targeted" American citizens? Are you investigating?

What Sen. Leahy knows, Team Obama must IMMEDIATELY confront -- because the victims continue to suffer.





Posted by: scrivener50 | February 10, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Before he can run in 2012, he must win in 2010. Just ask George Allen, who was poised to grab the 2008 Republican nomination for President - until he imploded in his Senate reelection campaign.

Pawlenty will likely have to face a very popular RT Rybak, Minneapolis mayor, in 2010. Rybak just launched his reelection campaign, but there's little chance he'll be ousted in November. Rybak was one of the first political figures to endorse Obama, holding "Draft Obama" rallies as early as 2006. Although it's doubtful Obama would return the favor, betting on the right horse should pay some dividends.

Pawlenty definitely has the approval ratings - and he'll certainly have the funding - but we'll see if he survives the campaign intact.

Posted by: JohninMpls | February 10, 2009 12:11 PM | Report abuse

The Fix writes
"Pawlenty's aggressive foreign travel has the effect of filling out an already-impressive résumé."

I'm doing some interviewing at work these days. A lot of candidates have come through the door with impressive resumes. The thing is, in talking to the candidates it becomes clear that a lot of people puff up their resumes a bit. Suffice it to say, we're still interviewing.

In analyzing Gov Pawlenty's resume, similar patterns emerge. The Gov & Lege are beginning this biennium's budget negotiations. The state budget faces the same problems now that existed when Gov Pawlenty first won the governorship. The resume may be long, but he really hasn't accomplished a damn thing.

Posted by: bsimon1 | February 10, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I believe Pawlenty will run for governor of Minn. again in 2010. He won't be challenged for the R nomination and will be the definate front runner for the office if he does run. These foreign trips do a great service in broadening his national security credentials. It is simply to soon to predict 2012, as 6 months is an eternity in politics...much less 4 years. We know that in 2012 SC gov. Mark Sanford will still be okay to run as he's term limited and will have the endorsement of the Club for Growth & fiscal conservative groups, plus he's a strong social conservative from a southern state. But, Pawlenty has always had a populist messege and touts his "Sam Club Republicans" fans. Pawlenty is a popular midwestern governor in a truly purple state. He's likeable and could do really well with the general electorate. But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Pawlenty will likely get reelected gov. of Minn. in 2010, but we shall see what happens then & after.

Posted by: reason5 | February 10, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

His picture is right next to the word "dull". yeesh...

Posted by: LABC | February 10, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Andy, that tickled me. Thanks.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | February 10, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Too bad he is as dull as dirt. There is no way that Pawlenty will get out of the GOP primary. He won't get the zealots to support him and he doesn't have the downhome appeal to win over the South. Not to mention that he will be going against a woman (Palin), a minority (Jindal), a priest (Huckabee), and a southerner (Sanford). In this situation Pawlenty gets described as a Politician.

Basically, Pawlenty is a wonderbread candidate in a multi-grain world.

Posted by: AndyR3 | February 10, 2009 11:22 AM | Report abuse

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